Hellraiser: The Scarlet Box Set (Blu-ray)

December 23, 2016 22 Min Read

Review by: Jake Keet

Plot: What’s it about?

Recently Arrow Video sent me a copy of their limited edition collection of the first three Hellraiser films. I would argue that the first film in the trilogy is one of the most original and truly frightening horror films that I have ever seen. I had not actually grown up watching this series, but I had made it a point to watch all of Clive Barker’s films earlier this year after I had watched Lord of Illusions, my personal favorite of the Barker films. With the box set in hand, I entered the world within the box.

Hellraiser

The trilogy begins with one of the scariest horror films ever made, Hellraiser. While growing up, I had not been allowed to see the film and I am glad that I was not allowed to see it until adulthood. It is a film that manages to make the viewer feel that something dreadful is just around every corner. It also explores far more adult themes than your average horror film with a plot that mixes deep seated religious fears with sexual taboo, adultery, and dark fantasy. It is a palpable mix that many have imitated but very few could pull off.

The film begins with a mysterious man coming into the possession of a scarlet and gold box. Upon unlocking the mechanism in the box, his body is torn to shred by chains and his soul taken to hell. His heart is pushed beneath the floorboards of his parent’s attic. His brother Larry and Larry’s wife Julia subsequently move into the abandoned house. Larry has a daughter named Kirsty who does not fully trust Julia. When Larry accidentally cuts himself the blood makes its way into the heart and the body begins to form itself in one of the most grotesque ways imaginable. As Frank rebuilds himself by eating rats in the attic, he comes into contact with Julia. Julia and Frank had actually been in a tempestuous affair. Frank convinces Julia to bring him fresh bodies to drain and replenish himself so that they might be together again. Frank is trying to escape the Cenobites, demonic presences that live in a masochistic other dimension. As Kirsty grows suspicious of her stepmother’s activities, Julia begins to repeatedly kill men while her husband is at work.

When I watched this film earlier this year, I vowed that I would probably not watch it again any time soon. I broke this vow almost immediately. This film is easily one of the most inventive, grotesque, and frightening horror films ever made. It is geared towards an adult audience and does not pull any punches. Many of the practical effects used in the film have aged well, while some have not. The film was made for only $1,000,000 and is extremely effective at that cost. The direction overall is pretty good, but some of the acting can feel a bit wooden. It also has a few slyly comedic underpinnings that I picked up as I watched it.

Overall, there is a reason that horror fans live this movie. I may not personally love it, but I absolutely respect it. It is one of very few films I have seen in my life that seemed capable of causing a nightmare. It is just that psychologically effective.

Hellraiser II: Hellbound

The sequel to Hellraiser is an interesting, if not mind-blowing, follow-up that was released a year after the first film in the series. Warning: if you have not watched the first film, wait until you have seen it to read this review or just skip to the technical merits of the disk.

At the end of the first film the protagonist, Kirsty, has narrowly escaped the Cenobites while everybody around her has perished. The film picks up with her in a sanitarium. Nobody believes that anything she and her boyfriend have said is factual. Meanwhile, the police are continuing to find bodies of the deceased at her dad’s house. She warns her neurological doctor, Doctor Channard, that the mattress that her stepmother had died on needs to be burned for fear that she might return from hell. She doesn’t realize that her doctor has his own collection of boxes and ulterior motives. It isn’t long before Julia is summoned back to life.

This sequel is pretty interesting and doesn’t fail to remain entertaining throughout the course of the film. That said, the first half works much better than the second half of the film. The first half of the film has the same type of building dread that worked so effectively in the first film. The second half is more of a dark fantasy film, reminding me a lot of the movie Labyrinth if it had been written by a horror writer. Also, the second half introduces us to the villain of the film, Leviathan, which did not frighten me at all.

The sequel does not live up to the first film in terms of scares. That said, it is not absolutely terrible either. They did a good job of playing within most of the ground rules that were laid out in the original, and they also matched the tone of the original in parts. The first half of the film is pretty effective until the film jumps the shark and takes the characters into hell. This is an interesting decision and entertaining one, but it just pales in comparison to the first film as helmed by Barker.

Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth

The third installment in the Hellraiser series was made in 1992 after a series of legal entanglements to free the rights from the dissolved company New World Pictures. The company that produced it paid to have Clive Barker uninvolved and then paid him to put his name on the project. This goes a long way towards explaining the third film’s goal: expand the audience by becoming more mainstream but try to capitalize on the legacy of the first film. In order to accomplish this feat they hired a new screenwriter and hired director Anthony Hickox (known for Waxwork) to helm the third entry. Depending on your tastes, this is either a really fun entry in the series or the end of something good.

The third film starts with a rich playboy and club owner, J.P. Monroe, purchasing the large sculpture that Pinhead and others are encased in from an art dealer. The next scene introduces the lead character, a news anchor named Joanne Summerskill, as she attempts to film a story at a hospital. Suddenly, a patient is wheeled in with some very unusual things occurring. For one, the patient has chains exploding out of his chest that are literally ripping him apart. Joanne comes into contact with the patient’s friend Terri and begins to try to unravel exactly what is occurring. Meanwhile, Pinhead makes himself known to J.P. By devouring one of J.P’s sexual conquests. He instructs J.P. to bring him more victims. As Joanne draws closer, Pinhead breaks loose of the statue and begins to wreak havoc in the city with the Cenobites, including brand new Cenobites that have a more technological bend (i.e. CD Head, Camera Head, etc.)

This film bears almost no resemblance to the two films before it and is incredibly distant from the original vision set forth in the first film. That said, I actually thought it was a really fun ( if not exceptionally good) movie. Part of my affection for the film comes from the direction of Anthony Hickox who had directed and written both Waxwork films which I enjoyed. It is also enjoyable from the standpoint of checking off literally every early 90s cliche possible, grunge clothes and hair metal and everything.

Therefore, I think that this film is awesome for making the trilogy of films so uniquely different. The first two are the most similar in tone, with the third feeling much more mainstream and chatty than the prior films. It is not the least bit frightening. Many fans will consider the third film a failure, but it helped to broaden the scope of what a Hellraiser film could be and set the course for numerous straight-to-video releases afterward. I personally don’t begrudge the film and got some good laughs out of what they came up with.

Video: How’s it look?

Arrow Video did a fantastic job on the transfer of the films using an MPEG 4 AVC codec of a new 2K restoration. The transfers look great overall. The first film fares the best, with the second and third films looking almost as well done. Overall, I really think that Arrow did an excellent job on these transfers. There is going to be an inherent softness from the actual film equipment and filming itself, but the image did not seem overly scrubbed. Fine detail and grain for the most part is present. That said, if they ever release a new 4K scan, I will be the first in line to purchase it. For right now and the foreseeable future, this is the best that these films have ever looked. Fans will love seeing these in high definition in all their gory glory.

Audio: How’s it sound?

The audio treatment of the three films is in line with the visual presentation. For the first two films two tracks are provided – English DTS-HD 5.1 and PCM 2.0. Both sound very good and the 5.1 slightly enhances the range. That said, the PCM 2.0 used for the third film and available for the first two is no slouch. It is nice to see the amount of care that Arrow has put into making sure that the sound design works so well on these films. I did not detect any unusual dropouts or anomalies in the transfers. This gets high marks.

Supplements: What are the extras?

Hellraiser

  • Leviathan: The Story of Hellraiser – an extremely in-depth full length documentary on the production of the film. Though shorter than the feature on the second film, this was the most entertaining supplement due to the discussion of its relationship to Barker’s writing. Noticeably absent from all of these new interviews is Clive Barker who is only shown in archival footage which is a shame. (1080p, 1:29:17)
  • Being Frank: Sean Chapman on Hellraiser – the actor who played Frank Underwood relays his experience of working on the first film. Solid for fans. (1080p, 26:24)
  • Soundtrack Hell – Coil member Stephen Thrower on the abandoned soundtrack for a Hellraiser. He also talks about his friendship with Clive and the scene they were part of. (1080p, 18:11)
  • Hellraiser: Resurrection -Archival feature with extended interviews with Clive Barker, Douglas Bradley, Ashley Laurence, Bob Keen, and Christopher Young. This feature is great and actually explains that Clive will not talk about Hellraiser any more after that interview. (SD, 24:26)
  • Under the Skin – Douglas Bradley Interview – a good archival interview with Douglas Bradley about his experience on the film. (SD, 12:31)
  • Original EPK – (SD, 5:58) – good clean fun.
  • Trailers – Theatrical, International, and Red Band
  • Four TV Spots
  • Image Gallery
  • Audio Commentary – two commentaries are presented – one with Clive Barker and one with Clive Barker and Ashley Laurence. Both should make fans happy.

Hellraiser II: Hellbound

  • Leviathan: The Story of Hellbound:Hellraiser II – an extremely in-depth full length documentary on the production of the film. This is excellent and leaves no stone unturned. This holds more information than any fan could’ve ever possibly need about the film. (1080p, 2:00:00)
  • Being Frank: Sean Chapman on Hellbound – the actor who played Frank Underwood relays his experience of working on the second film. Enjoyable. (1080p, 11:35)
  • Lost in the Labyrinth – (SD, 17:03) – an archival feature on the film. Features interviews with Clive Barker, Tony Randel, Douglas Bradley, and Peter Atkins. Solid.
  • Under the Skin – Douglas Bradley Interview – a good archival interview with Douglas Bradley about his experience on the film. (SD, 13:46)
  • On Set Interviews – two short EPKs organized into “Clive Barker” and “Cast and Crew.” Clive has a killer haircut in this one. (SD, 3:18 and 4:45)
  • Surgeon Scene – a long list scene featuring the Cenobites in surgical garb. Missing effects shots are written as Scene Missing inserts. Not much here. (SD, 4:49)
  • Behind-the-Scenes Footage – short footage (SD, 1:51)
  • Red Band and Theatrical Trailer
  • Two TV Spots
  • Galleries – included are Storyboards, Alternate Ending Storyboards, and Promotional Stills
  • Commentaries – two commentaries are provided – One with Tony Randel and Peter Atkins, the other with Tony Randel, Ashley Laurence, and Peter Atkins. Both commentaries are well done, but I prefer the first to the latter.

Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth

  • Unrated Version of the film – the unrated version of the film is provided. This was recreated using the existing best possible footage of the missing scenes off of a laser disk due to the original elements’ disappearance. These scenes are roughly VHS quality, but still cool to have.
  • The Story of Hellraiser III – an enjoyable feature with interviews of cast and crew members about how the film came together, its shortcomings, the pressures of the production company, legal entanglements, and more. Everybody seems to feel conflicted about the film: they seem to like it but also understand that it is not even close to perfection. This feature goes a long way to tell you why the bigger missteps were forced into the film such as CD-Head. Christopher Figg seems to really hate this movie. (1080p, 32:01)
  • Paula Marshall Interview– an interview with supporting actress who played Terri in the movie. She has gone on to be in tons of things including series like Californication. This was her first big role. (1080p, 14:55)
  • Anthony Hickox Interview – the director shares anecdotes about working on the film and his experience with Miramax in this archival interview. (SD, 13:59)
  • Under the Skin – Douglas Bradley Interview – a good archival interview with Douglas Bradley about his experience on the film. (SD, 13:46)
  • Original EPK – (SD, 5:12) – this was awesome. Motörhead makes an appearance.
  • FX Dailies – (SD, 23:49) – tons of effects shifts from the movie.
  • Theatrical Trailer – (HD, 1:52)
  • Galleries – includes the Hellraiser III comic adaptation (all of it!) and numerous stills. Pretty cool to have the whole comic book
  • Commentary with Peter Atkins for the theatrical version – this commentary is great because of all the changes that happened to the original script by Peter.
  • Commentary with Anthony Hickox and Doug Bradley for the Unrated Version – a fun running commentary that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Limited Edition Bonus Disk: The Clive Barker Legacy
This is really cool. The fourth disk includes Barker’s two short films, and features for Barker fans specifically.

  • Books of Blood and Beyond: (1080p, 19:25)  – author David Gatward talks his way through Clive Barker’s literature and numerous film adaptations. I really enjoyed this feature.
  • Hellraiser: Evolutions – (1080p, 48:17) – a brand new documentary on the evolution of the series. This goes well beyond the third film and talks about everything that came afterwards. Really fun.
  • Hellraiser Chronicles: A Question of Faith – (1080p, 31:40)- a short film made with the intention of creating a Hellraiser television series. For the completist only. Also has an optional commentary track.
  • Clive Barker Short films – these come with an optional introduction with Clive Barker that I recommend. (Times indicated below are for the features with introductions)
  • Salome– (1080p, 26:04) – a strange silent experimental film. Not particularly of interest for anyone but the super fan.
  • The Forbidden– (1080p, 50:03) – another strange and ominous black and white film. This one comes with a lot of unwanted full frontal nudity! Not my deal.

The Bottom Line

The Hellraiser films are interesting in how different they are from each other. The first film is a verifiable classic horror film that is as nasty and shocking a horror film as one is likely to see. The second film is a strange and uneven horror and fantasy mixture. The third film is a mainstream cash grab in the grunge era. Honestly, I enjoyed all three films for very different reasons.

This box set is one of the more impressive outings by Arrow Video. I am not sure that I would recommend each film on an individual basis, but as a whole with all of the supplements, it is hard to resist. Watching the journey from the incredibly dark first film to the nearly comical third film is made more fun as the horror stories of developmental pressures mount. The supplemental features are incredibly robust and collect Barker’s early work, numerous documentaries on the films, and tons of interviews.

Aside from an amazing assortment of supplements which would be hard to rival anywhere, Arrow have also provided solid technical specs for the video and audio on each release.

At the end of the day, my only hesitation on recommending the box set is that some of the material within is pretty taboo, especially in the first film. The first film is one of the only horror films I have seen in a long time that made me worry that I would actually have a nightmare.

Fans are going to be incredibly pleased with what is offered here. The amount of supplements is essentially exhaustive and will make any fan a greater fan of the series.

If you are a fan, prepare to be blown away by how thorough Arrow Video has been.

Disc Scores

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EXTRAS
OVERALL